5-cent hike would help pay for new elementary school
PRINCE GEORGE — The county administration’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes funding for one new elementary school – and an increase in the real estate tax to pay for it.
County Administrator Percy Ashcraft presented his proposed $116.8 million budget to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, up 2.44 percent from the current year and including a 5-cent increase in the real property tax rate.
The added funding would go toward a new Walton Elementary School. The Capital Improvement Plan committee set a new school to replace Walton as a top priority while noting that two new elementary schools are needed. A second would replace the campus-style Beazley Elementary, and the CIP also includes renovations at the high school.
“If the policy decision is made by the Board of Supervisors to fund the construction of one or more elementary schools, there is no other option than to raise the real estate tax to pay future debt service on the funds that will be borrowed,” Ashcraft said during follow-up questions after the meeting. “Our current budget does not have the level of reserves to pay out of pocket for an investment of this nature that will cost an estimated $30 million to build.”
During his presentation, Ashcraft explained that the General Fund budget is $56 million, which is 4.65 percent more than the adopted amount for fiscal year 2018. The proposed budget contains a $1.25 million contribution to a debt reserve fund for capital projects. Net of this debt contribution, the increase is 2.32 percent. The proposed budget includes continued investments in capital and one-time equipment purchases, Ashcraft said.
“Proposed is modest growth in the real estate revenue
at $386,000. However, a 5-cent increase in the real estate rate is proposed to be dedicated specifically to capital construction and equates to $1,250,000,” Ashcraft explained. “This will require a change in the [memorandum of understanding] between the county and Public School Division in order for the increase not to be used for school operations, but for capital purposes only. This will increase the real estate rate to 91 cents per $100 of assessed value.”
According to the budget document, other increases in revenue include $74,000 in personal property tax, garnered from an increase in book values and proration that was adopted by the board in 2014. This increase is diminished by the impending closure of Ace Hardware and expected loss of Business Furniture and Fixture tax revenue. Mobile home collections are expected to rise with the addition of 131 units at Pine Ridge Mobile Home Park.
The County Administrator’s proposed FY2019 budget includes purchases of $36.9 million through the issuance of debt for projects recommended by the CIP committee and county administration. They include:
County-wide debt service payments and contributions to reserves for debt service are proposed to be $1.26 million more than this year, and the general fund transfer for debt is proposed to rise by $1.25 million.
Members of the School Board took a recess during their meeting Tuesday, which included a public hearing on the division’s budget, to listen in on Ashcraft’s proposal.
School Board Chairman Robert Cox Jr. said he felt the proposal was fair to the schools, but elected officials would have to determine what a change in the MOU would mean. During the meeting, supervisors and School Board members agreed a joint meeting should occur, with Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Carmichael saying “sooner than later.” Cox said proposed dates would be suggested and a later meeting set.
Ashcraft explained that the county debt is broken down into five categories: county tax supported, county stormwater, economic development, schools and utilities. Utilities, county stormwater and economic development have specific revenue streams that support debt related to these activities. County tax supported and school debt are supported by the general obligation of the county and rely completely on tax dollars.
The largest General Fund expenditure continues to be for employee salaries and benefits, which for FY19 is 34 percent of the budget.
There are 260 full-time employees and nine part-time positions authorized in the budget proposal, and 254 full-time and nine part-time positions are funded. “There are no new positions proposed for FY19,” Ashcraft said. Included is a request to increase the hours for the part-time County Attorney, which equates to $21,530.
“The county anticipates a 16 percent increase in costs to employee health insurance. It is undetermined whether the county will share the same health care provider as the Public School Division, or both will go separate ways,” Ashcraft noted in his presentation. An additional $226,005 is proposed in the General Fund to cover claims. The Special Revenue and Utility Funds budgets are increased by $33,665 for increased claims.
This budget proposal also includes $95,500 for continuation of a career development program for Police and Fire and EMS, and adds programs for the Social Services, Community Development, Animal Services Center and Emergency Communications departments.
A 5 percent increase in water and 7.5 percent increase in wastewater fees are proposed to continue to realign utility revenues to cover annual operating and capital expenses. The estimated revenue from this increase totals $373,000. The proposed increases equate to a $1.24 increase per month for water charges and a $3.97 per month increase per month for sewer charges ($5.21 per month total increase) for single-family homes using an average of 5,000 gallons per month. About two-thirds of residential customers would actually see less than this $5.21 per month increase because they consume less than the average.